James E. Bryan

James is the Program Director of Knoff Yoga headquarters in Cairns Australia. James tell us about his 25 year successful marriage and business partnership with Nicky Knoff. Born in 1953 in Los Angeles, California, he immigrated with his family to Auckland, New Zealand in 1969.

Nicky Knoff was James’ very first yoga teacher when he started classes at the New Zealand School of Yoga in 1982.

In 1986 James attended a Teacher Training intensive at the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute, in Pune, India with B.K.S. Iyengar and Geeta Iyengar. In the same year, James moved to Australia to join Nicky Knoff in setting up the Queensland School of Yoga in Noosaville.

In 1989 James travelled to Mysore India, to study Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga with K. Pattabhi Jois, where he learned the first 3 Series. In 1991 he travelled to Hawaii to learn the 4th Series from Nancy Gilgoff. As the Program Director of Knoff Yoga, James is busy coordinating the multiple activities of this popular school as well as travelling to  teach Knoff Yoga to a wider audience.

Checkout the www.knoffyoga.com.au for upcoming workshops around Australia, Bali, Taiwan and Austria.


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Show Notes

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Otherwise please enjoy the show notes below.

Episode #005 James E. Bryan

Show Notes –  Summary of our discussion.

Bettina: You moved to New Zealand from the California around the age of 16 years old is that correct?

James: That’s right and it was a shock going from LA to Auckland. My stepfather wanted to bring us up away from crime and drugs. We had 3 stores in LA and we were robbed 11 times in 12 months. I was in 3 of those and its had its pretty scary having a gun stuck  in your face.

Bettina: When did you first find yoga and how did that come about? Do you recall your first yoga class?

James: I was age 29yrs. Nicky Knoff was my first yoga teacher, I liked her so much I married her!  I used to run marathons and this l was a way to keep fit , I found it really made me feel good. NZ School of Yoga profound effect it felt like coming home, like I’d done it before. I started going to the classes 3 times a week and then I thought this is really good for me so I started going 7 days a week. I’m one of those people who thinks if its worth doing its worth over doing.

Nicky left after 2 years and then she went to Australia so I continued on for a further 2 years at that school. I reconnected with Nicky in India in 1986. And that’s when the magic of the east happened and we got together.

Bettina: Take us back to the time when you went to Pune to study with B.K.S. Iyenga. Paint us a picture of what that journey was like.

James: Ha Ha ha , well I got there a few days early and we were allowed to watch and I was horrified. You know what the B.K.S. stands for don’t you?

Bettina: Wow – listen to the podcast to find out what James joked about.

James: The Iyengar family teach old school style, they were tough. I no longer look for a guru, I learnt early on that if I want to follow the path of yoga I had to find it within myself.

Bettina: After India you returned to Australia to set up the Noosaville Yoga School.

James: Yes we have done quite a few schools now, since 1986 over the past 25 years we have opened and operated 5 schools across NZ, Australia, and the USA.

Bettina: You have been a great inspiration to many students – thank you so much.

James: Yes its very gratifying, we have students stop us in the street quite often to say thank you and tell us their story.

Bettina: Tell us about your time learning Ashtanga yoga with Pattabhi Jois.

James: We were learning yoga out of BKS Iyengar’s  book Light on Yoga.  And when we came to the arm balances the, bird postures, we struggled we didn’t have the strength to hold ourselves up. We read an article in the Yoga Journal in 1988 about Pattabhi Jois with an explanation of the system of Ashtanga and what struck us was that they did a million pushups, and of course that’s the key to building upper body strength. Aha that’s the missing link for these yoga poses. So we jumped on a plane and went across to India to study with him.

We need to remember that Iyenga and Ashtanga come from the Krishnamacharya linage.

Ashtanga has a set sequence where as Iyenga yoga tends to have much more emphasis on anatomical alignment.

Ashtanga had little focus on alignment and there were a lot of injuries. From pushing too hard into postures. Nicky ripped her psoas muscle really badly during the training and we had to go home.

I’ m not being negative about these guys. We learned a lot from Iyenga  and even more from Pattabhi Jois. They are not my gurus they are only human beings and I think that’s a healthy thing to realise.

Bettina: You learnt and practiced to 4th series Ashtanga – that’s quite a achievement can you lead us through that journey and what it takes to achieve this level?

James: It only took us ten years Bettina! It takes daily practice. When we were practicing Iyenga yoga we used to practice 7 days a week and when we came across Ashtanga they only practiced 6 days we thought that’s was great we could have a day off! And another thing is the moon days we asked the students what the significance was, which was different to what Pattabhi Jois told us it was.

Bettina: Tell me about Nancy Gilgoff.

James: Nancy runs the House of Zen and yoga in Maui. We looked after her school for 4 months so she could take some time off to rest.

She was one of the first  Westerners to go over and work with Pattabhi Jois. I think her partner David Williams was the first. Nancy took us through the 4th series and she was adjusting in the classes. She is still going well. I want to say Bettina a Yogi always yog’s.

Bettina: Has your practice changed over time?

James: Yes it has. As we learned the different systems we incorporated it into our daily practices.  We found the alignment principles of Iyengar and the energetic principles of Ashtanga applying the bandhas and the drishti together where a perfect fit together. Back in those days people in the Iyenga schools didn’t approve that we went to study Ashtanga with Pattabhi Jois some thought it was a betrayal. But that’s not the case now its more common now than then to combine the principles.

Bettina: Does your routine include pranayama and meditation?

James: Yes What we discovered over the years is that the whole practice of yoga is synergistic. You need to add in the other traditional elements.

Bettina: As the program Director of the Knoff Yoga School you have a very busy life.

James: Well as you know Nicky travels a lot these days. It takes discipline.

Bettina: Tell me about the process of developing the schools newsletter.

James: We have not missed a single issue in the last 2.5 years. We wanted a way to communicate with our student to carry the relationship on and keep the student’s inner fire burning. Over 1500 are on our list now.

Bettina: Chair yoga is one  of the videos that you have produced and now have available on LiveYogaLife.com  What inspired you to develop this series? Chair Yoga Classes by James Bryan - Liveyogalife.com

James: Our experience working with the people at the Crippled Children’s hospital. So that people with disabilities, health problems, balance problems or any reason could do yoga.

The video is good to get it out to a wider audience?  Iyenga said “Its better to work from a good book than a bad teacher”

Bettina: On your Facebook page: there is the saying Practice with Clarity, Teach with Sincerity, and Live Your Life with Hilarity – can you elaborate on that for us?

Well you need to cultivate an attitude of enjoyment other wise its hard to stick with it. Make sure you enjoy your yoga practice – If yoga lives up to its promises we should be sharper, clearer, stronger and happier.

Bettina: Tell us about when you went back to live in the  USA, you attended the Yoga Journal Estes Park Convention for 4 consecutive years. What did you enjoy about attending this kind of yoga event?

James: It was fun and I highly recommend it! It’s in Boulder Colarardo. All the famous yoga teachers come to one spot and you get to go to their classes and work with them for a whole week. I loved it. It also gave us the confidence to know that what we were teaching, we where on the right path as well.

Bettina: Other than yoga what do you love to do?

James: I like to get outside and walk. Walking in the hills in Cairns.

Bettina: What books do you like to read?

James: For years I just read every thing yoga until I nearly overdosed. I subscribe to TIME magazine  to see what is going on around the world. You will laugh about this …you know I have just finished reading the entire Twilight the vampire series. Nicky and I went to see the Twilight movies too. We were by far the oldest people at the theatre but we had a blast!

Bettina: What advise would you give to new yoga teachers?

James: Something I’ve noticed about new teachers is they tend to teach too much. They need to step back and give one point to their students at a time. Find out what James means about machine gunning teaching. Listen to the podcast. He has such a great sense of humour.

Bettina: What are you working on at the moment or what is coming up that you are offering to your students?

James: I taught recently at Gladstone it has quite a good yoga community there. To teach the broader aspects of yoga.  I asked the students how many have a pranayama practice. 1 in 20 students practiced pranayama.

Bettina: If you were to be able to choose to become one of gods creatures an animal what would it be and why?

James: That’s an interesting question I want to as conscience as I can. For me the joy of being alive is awareness.  I’m going to choose a  dog…. why, because I love downward facing  dog, its my favorite. Dogs have good interaction with other beings and I am going to choose an Italian whippet!

Bettina: Do you have a charity that you support?

James: We support Patty McGraw’s Yoga Pad scholarship for the last 7 years . We offer it to 1 person per year from a third world country. Someone who has been teaching yoga for some time or a more experienced yoga student who would benefit from teacher training. To raise their standards so that they can go back to their community and lift the standards of their yoga community.

Bettina: What else would you like to tell us before we get to the last question?

James: Find your own self in yoga, learn from a range of teachers but ultimately we are all responsible for ourselves. I encourage everyone to be true to themselves.

Bettina: Finally – Who would you like to hear interviewed on YTP

James: Well there are  a lot of very interesting people out there. One person I think your listeners would enjoy listening to is Santina Giardina-Chard from the Gold Coast. She has an awesome practice and has put in the hard yards . She’s a character, very entertaining and has had a super interesting life.

www.knoffyoga.com  Subscribe to the Knoff Yoga newsletter.


Nicky Knoff,

B.K.S. Iyengar

Sri K Pattabhi Jois

Music by Lee Coulter Track: Yoga Master from www.musicalley.com

Thank you for listening.  Please comment on the website or on our Facebook page.


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